About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller – Sheldon Horowitz is my hero. The creativeness, initiative and courage he displays in Norwegian by Night is remarkable. That Horowitz is an 82 year old man gives hope to all that age need not diminish the human spirit.

With his life long love, his wife Mabel, recently deceased and his son, Saul, long gone Horowitz is persuaded by his granddaughter, Rhea, and her husband, Lars, to move from New York City to Oslo, Norway.

Having visited both New York City and Oslo I know Horowitz experienced a major culture shock. From vibrant, often abrasive, always loud New York City he moves to a tranquil, very orderly, invariably polite Oslo.

Horowitz spends much of his time living in the world within his mind. That world is filled with the people of his life who have died. Sometimes they join him in his memories of past events. At other times they are with him in the present. His family believes he is in the early stages of dementia.

While Horowitz may struggle with aspects of reality in the 21st Century he convincingly explains he understands the modern world but he is haunted by his past so strongly it is part of his present.

In the voices he hears I was reminded of the Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd in which Rutledge carries on silent dialogue with Hamish, the corporal who died while under his command in WW I. It is no accident that both Horowitz and Rutledge are former combat soldiers. Their experiences of battle will never leave their minds.

Three decades after Saul’s death guilt weighs heavily upon Horowitz:

“And then Saul – my Saul – decided to go to Vietnam because his father had gone to Korea, and his father went to Korea because he didn’t go to Germany. And Saul died there. It was me. I encouraged him. I think I took the life of my boy in the name of a moral cause. But in the end I was nothing like Abraham. Nothing like Saul. And God didn’t stay my hand.”

Horowitz repaired watches after returning from war. His description of working with a balance spring, the heart of a watch, left a catch in my throat:

“I bought the watch from a magazine. Nothing you’d have ever heard of. Fancy people don’t own them. Working-class people do. Soldiers. And they get what they pay for. I like them. So I bought a new one recently, and I’m taking the balance spring from Saul’s old watch and placing the old heart in the new one. This way, when I go about my day and check the time, when I make some decision or other, we’re connected. It makes me feel a little closer to him.”

When the old soldier, Horowitz was a Marine in Korea, sees a woman and child in danger he does not dither. He takes action to try to protect them. When left with the responsibility of the young boy of 6 with whom he does not share a language he embarks upon a valiant quest to seek sanctuary. Miller makes credible their incredible pairing.

The book is a modern epic that happens to be a mystery. Great themes of bravery, honour and loyalty share space with moments of absurdity. Horowitz displays improvisational skills on his journey that left me full of admiration.

I thought of Keith Stewart in Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute. Stewart is a middle aged engineer who designs, makes and writes about models of machinery. The modest Stewart equally embarks on a great mission on behalf of a child.

The evil men of Norwegian by Night have been forged by the violence of the Balkans where historic conflicts afflict everyone. They find themselves unable to relate to the peaceful considerate Norwegians.

Horowitz is a character I wish I could have met in real life. His wit and broad knowledge would make every conversation engaging.

While many have highly rated this book it took the Christmas book recommendation of José Ignacio Escribano of the blog, The Game’s Afoot to get me to read the book. I now understand the praise it has gained around the world.

I will long remember Sheldon Horowitz. (Feb. 26/14)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Comment on Margot Kinberg's Post on Mysteries in Graphics

Margot Kinberg at her great blog, Confessions of a
Mystery Novelist, has a post today on providing the plot for
mysteries through graphic design. While I cannot match
   her design I wanted to comment in graphics. Drop on over.
   It is a wonderful post.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Do You Watch and Read Fictional Crime Stories Looking for Errors?

I said in my review of The Missing File by D.A. Mishani that were references to crime fiction in the book.

Mishani's Israeli detective Avraham Avraham, says he enjoys reading crime novels and watching crime movies and television series so he can “prove the detectives wrong”.

Avraham continues on his motive:

With every crime novel I read, I conduct my own investigation and prove that the detective in the book is mistaken, or else deliberately misleads the readers, and that the true solution is not the one he presents.

As his example Avraham claims that Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles “frames one of the characters who is completely innocent”.

What Avraham and his creator, Mishani, do not disclose is why Poirot would frame a character which I consider unfair to Poirot and his creator, Agatha Christie. If you are going to defame one of the most famous fictional detectives at least provide the basis for your bold statement.

At the same time Mishani is describing a process I go through with in reading and watching legal mysteries though not to prove the fictional lawyer is wrong or mistaken. What I am watching is whether the writer got the actions of the lawyer legally correct.

I cannot watch or read about a fictional lawyer without making that judgment. Sharon and I watched many many episodes of Law & Order. We both enjoyed the show. She will also recall that I would blurt out loud, not every episode, but often enough “that couldn’t happen in court”.

Most often it was the use of leading questions when a lawyer was questioning a witness they had called to the stand. On examination in chief you must ask factual questions and let the witness provide the narrative. On cross examination of the other side’s witnesses you can ask leading questions. I understand that screen writers and authors use the leading questions to save time and space but the entertainment practice remains wrong.

I find authors of legal mysteries, especially those who are lawyers, do follow the Rules of Court. Getting it right on paper, where there is more flexibility on length then in a movie or T.V. series, makes it a little easier.

I have occasionally noted to friend and Saskatchewan author, Gail Bowen, that her legal procedure is not always right. She gently but forthrightly explained her decisions as an answer in a set of Q & A we had in 2011:

I’m also grateful to the lawyers who check out ‘the law’ in my books.  Truly this is a case where the errata are my own.  They give me good advice, and occasionally I ignore it.  Writers of fiction are mercifully freed from some constraints.  As Peter Robinson says, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’

Mishani, as quoted in my recent post on the difficulty of writing and setting crime fiction in Israel agreed it is challenging. In that post I quoted the following passage from The Missing File:

Because we don't have crimes like that. We don't have serial killers; we don't have kidnappings; and there aren't many rapists out there attacking women on the streets. Here, when a crime is committed, it's usually the neighbour, the uncle, the grandfather, and there's no need for a complex investigation to find the criminal and clear up the mystery. There's simply no mystery here. The explanation is always the simplest.

In his own book Mishani writes a complex investigation for Avraham with regard to the missing teenager, Ofer.

As I do not want to provide spoilers I cannot say whether the solutions in The Missing File and Lineup, the previous Israeli mystery I have read, are “the simplest”.

What I will say is that both books are not as complicated as most mysteries being written in this era. Neither The Missing File nor Lineup require a genius at detection nor a forensic scientist to solve the crime. They are competent police procedurals.
I ask readers of the blog whether their professional and personal experience leaves them noting whether the writer has gotten it right?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Missing File by D.A. Mishani translated by Steven Cohen

7. – 754.) The Missing File by D.A. Mishani translated by Steven Cohen – Israeli police detective, Avraham Avraham, is having a quiet shift at the detachment office when Hannah Sharabi arrives at 6:10 pm and advises her teenage son, Ofer, has not come home. Avraham is dismissive and tells her that he will have someone check with her in the morning.

Ofer does not come home that evening or during the night or in the morning. The next day the police begin an intensive investigation into what has happened to the missing Ofer.

Avraham is wracked with guilt over not commencing the investigation the previous night. His feelings are intensified by the memory of his attitude towards Hannah.

There are no leads. Ofer has lived a quiet life. He goes to school. He does his homework. He plays on the computer. He helps take care of sister, Danit, who has Down’s Syndrome, and his young brother. He is not a troublemaker. He has few friends. He does not have a girlfriend. There is no one with whom he is having trouble. There is no reason for him to disappear. There is no one in the apartment building or the school or the community with a reason to harm him. He has no money to go anywhere.

An anonymous phone call saying the body is in some sand dunes near the apartment in Holon (a city just south of Tel Aviv on the coast) causes a futile search.

The caller is Ze’ev Avni, a teacher who lives with his family in the apartment below the Sharabi family. He has had a closer connection to Ofer than anyone outside the immediate family. He had tutored Ofer in English until the sessions were abruptly terminated.

Ze’ev has engimatic thoughts about Ofer. Can the reason for the disappearance involve this rather vain aspiring writer who seeks to stay close to the police?

Ofer’s father, Rafael, is unable to help the police. He is on a ship in the Mediterranean and cannot get back to Israel for several days.

Avraham struggles to move the investigation ahead and struggles even more with a continuing sense of regret.

The investigation is stalled until Ze’ev takes actions that startled me.

The rather plodding pace of the book then accelerates to an ending I had not anticipated.

I found Avraham a rather frustrating police officer. The chain smoking, single, 38 year old Avraham is insecure and consumed with self-doubt. His somber nature would fit well in Scandavia. How can he conduct effective investigations so preoccupied with his own issues?

There is some fine lyric writing, especially since the book has been translated from Hebrew:

That morning, the blue skies stretched out above them as they made their way to the police station, and the breeze, as light as a feather, that accompanied them on their way remained with him long after the case closed.

The closing section lifted The Missing File from an average book and left me wanting to find out what happens in the next Avraham Avraham mystery. In that book, if Mishani can move the whole story along at a better tempo and bring some light into Avraham’s life he will have a good series underway.

It is the second Israeli written and set mystery I have read in a row. Just over a week ago I finished Lineup by Liad Shoham.

Mishani brings an intriguing background to his writing. I will repeat a quote from the back cover I put up in a recent post:

D.A. Mishani is the editor of Israeli fiction and crime literature at Keter Books in Israel and is a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature.

My next post will look at references to crime fiction in The Missing File. (Feb. 22/14)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It is Hard to Write Crime Fiction Set in Israel

After reading Lineup by Liad Shoham, a review of which is my last post, I looked for some information on the author and came across a fascinating article he wrote for The Times of Israel late last year titled “It’s not easy being a crime novelist in Israel”.

Let’s start with the fact that Israel is a very small place. An American writer can take his hero from New York and lead him all the way to California, where he can create a new identity for himself. Where can I take mine? To Afula? That’s less than 30 miles from Tel Aviv. And let’s say I take him to Eliat, the furthest place in Israel, so what? He’d still be discovered

In Saskatchewan the population is limited but we are so spread out and there are our neighbouring provinces and the United States so that characters can range far and wide.

He then says:

That’s because Israelis love to play a game where they ask one another “Where are you from?” and the start with the “do you know so and so?” My poor protagonist, who thought he would be incognito, would be exposed in five minutes – not be sophisticated and seasoned police detectives but by the third floor neighbours.
It is a universal game. All of us have had small world experiences where someone we meet knows someone we would never have anticipated. Still it sounds like Israelis take the game to a different level.

Shoham continues that Israeli readers would not believe in brilliant police officers citing a famous Israeli joke that police work in pairs as “there needs to be one who can read and another that can write”.

He says there has never been a real life serial killer since Israel came into existence in 1947.

Shoham states:

I am filled with envy every time I read books in which the author did not dedicate whole chapters to what the main characters’ families think. In Israel, the family has such an important role that it is difficult to see how credible characters can be created without getting into the details and about all their relatives.

He goes on that Israeli apartment buildings lack basements and attics in which to conceal evidence and bodies.

Lest you think Shoham's observations are unique to him I am writing another Israeli mystery, The Missing File by D.A. Mishani, where early in the book the sleuth, detective Avraham Avraham explains why "there are no detective novels in Hebrew" such as written by Agatha Christie or Stieg Larsson:

            Because we don't have crimes like that. We don't have serial
            killers; we don't have kidnappings; and there aren't many
            rapists out there attacking women on the streets. Here, when
            a crime is committed, it's usually the neighbour, the uncle,
            the grandfather, and there's no need for a complex
            investigation to find the criminal and clear up the mystery.
            There's simply no mystery here. The explanation is always
            the simplest. 
In spite of all the problems Shoham concludes that crime fiction is “blooming” in Israel because “it provides escapism for living in the region and an outlet for a tense people”.

He ends with a story that made me laugh out loud on sex scenes he has written:
            After writing my third book, I asked my mother how she  
            was dealing with the licentiousness.
            “I don’t read it and just skip forward,” she said.
            “How do you know how much to skip?” I pressed on,
            She replied, “What do you think you father is for?”
What more need be said.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lineup by Liad Shoham translated by Sara Kitai

Lineup by Liad Shoham translated by Sara Kitai – Adi Regev, living in an apartment building in north Tel Aviv, is raped just outside her home. Her parents persuade her to report the attack to the police.

Amit Galidi, a young ambitious reporter, for a local daily paper is late to the story and is under extreme pressure from his editor, Dori Engel, to find new information about the crime.

Following the traditional tabloid press approach to crime Engel has his paper howling for the rapist to be swiftly arrested and convicted and sent away for a long jail term.

Regev’s father, Yaron, worried about her, spends much of each night outside her home to ensure she is safe. A few nights later he sees a man who looks to be “scouting the area” and then ducks behind a car. When he runs away Yaron is convinced he is the rapist. Yaron follows him to his residence and manages to get a photo.

Yaron turns his information over to Eli Nachum, a veteran detective, who is in a career lull and sees the case as a way to regain status as a leading investigator.

The Tel Aviv police arrest Ziv Nevo at the apartment Yaron identified. Sure he has the rapist in custody Nachum aggressively questions Nevo.

Without giving particulars Nachum acts unethically in his zeal to get the rapist. The end justifies the means. Details that contradict Nevo being the rapist are ignored.

Galit Lavie is the prosecutor assigned to handle the case. Thankfully she acts more ethically than the police.

The problem is that Nevo did not rape Regev. The police are completely certain of guilt and completely wrong.

The problems and complications of jumping to the wrong conclusion fill the rest of the book. While not glad the police acted improperly I did appreciate reading a book where there are consequences for police and society when police do not follow the rules involving criminal investigations.

The police and prosecutors of Israel are just as reluctant as their North American counterparts to face they are wrong.

After reading I Am Pilgrim with its big themes involving terrorism Lineup was an almost startling change. It deals with the issues of individuals. While the reasons the police got the wrong man involve important societal issues the book is about the people involved in the fiasco.

The book is a strong police procedural but I did not find it a great book. It was a very good book. It is meant to be read when you are ready for a change from the police can do anything because they get the right man mysteries that are so common.

I regret that I did not really learn much about Israel through reading the book. Essentially the book could have been set in any large city in the Western world.

The cover states the author is “Israel’s leading crime writer and a practising attorney” with Lineup his 6th book. It is the first to be published in the United States. I thought the translation was excellent.
Readers looking for a solid police procedural which happens to be set outside the traditional Western countries will enjoy Lineup. (Feb. 15/14)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Libel Case Involving Shirley Temple and Graham Greene

Yesterday Moira Redmond at her fine blog, Clothes in Books, put up a post about Shirley Temple Black and her autobiography, Child Star. In that post she referred to a review of a Temple movie by the author Graham Greene in Night and Day magazine in the 1930’s. The review resulted in a successful libel lawsuit against Greene, the publisher and the printer. In a comment exchange on why the lawsuit was lost Moira said I was needed to explain the legal issues. I take up the challenge in this post.

I found a copy of the actual review in Pajiba in an article by Dustin Rowles. Skilfully written it is obviously intended to be provocative from its opening sentence:

The owners of a child star are like leaseholders — their property diminishes in value every year.

The review continues in an overtly sexual manner describing Temple:
Miss Shirley Temple’s case, though, has peculiar interest: infancy with her is a disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. Already two years ago she was a fancy little piece – real childhood, I think, went out after The Littlest Rebel. In Captain January she wore trousers with the mature suggestiveness of a Dietrich: her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance: her eyes had a sidelong searching coquetry. Now in Wee Willie Winkie, wearing short kilts, she is a complete totsy. Watch her swaggering stride across the Indian barrack-square: hear the gasp of excited expectation from her antique audience when the sergeant’s palm is raised: watch the way she measures a man with agile studio eyes, with dimpled depravity. Adult emotions of love and grief glissade across the mask of childhood, a childhood skin-deep.
It is clever but it cannot last – middle aged men and clergymen – respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.
Temple was 9 when the review was written in 1937. The sexual descriptions of a child, far beyond innuendo, are offensive. Greene may have intended to be tongue-in-cheek but he has attacked the reputation of an innocent child.

The sexual implications culminate in the word “totsy”. In the blog spacebeer there is an explanation of the meaning of the word:

But back to totsy: what on earth does it mean? Where did it come from Well, I went to the source (the Oxford English Dictionary) and its earliest use of the term is by Greene in his 1938 book Brighton Rock: “The atmosphere of innumerable roadhouses, of totsies gathered round swimming pools.” In case you are wondering the word is related to the British slang term “totty,” which started as a diminuitive for “tot,” then gained the secondary meaning of a “good-time girl” and currently can be used for any group of “people (esp. women) collectively regarded as objects of sexual desire.”

(Lacking a subscription to the OED I rely upon the quote though the first use was obviously not in Greene’s book but in the review which was written in 1937.)

I consider calling a child a “good time girl” and “an object of sexual desire” an actionable attack on her character and morals. Her reputation has been defamed.

Twentieth Century Fox was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Its claim principally flows from the opening sentence which ties the film maker to deliberately making the 9 year old Temple a sexual object.

Greene in his book, Ways of Escape, described Twentieth Century Fox’s claim against him:

I kept on my bathroom wall, until a bomb removed the wall, the statement of claim – that I had accused Twentieth Century Fox of “procuring” Miss Temple “for immoral purposes” ……

The case report in The Times Law Reports which Greene published in Ways of Escape sets out the publishers settled the action admitting liability rather than proceed to a trial.

The case report stated:

On October 28 last year Night and Day Magazines, Limited, published an article written by Mr. Graham Greene. In his (counsel’s) view it was one of the most horrible libels one might imagine.

Counsel further described Night and Day as a “beastly” publication.

Counsel was Sir Patrick Hastings, one of England’s greatest barristers who was also involved with the stage including writing plays.

Counsel for the Defendants, including Greene, offered full apologies.

Damages were agreed at 2,000 pounds for Temple, 1,000 pounds for the film corporation and 500 pounds for the film company. It was recognized the damages were symbolic and not reflective of the actual libel.

Though the damages were modest for the companies, Greene who agreed to pay 500 pounds of the settlement, struggled to raise the money.

Lord Chief Justice Hewart rather ominiously asked if Greene was within the jurisdiction of the Court. His counsel said he did not know. His Lordship went on to say:

The libel is a gross outrage, and I will take care that suitable attention is directed to it.

Greene was already in abstentia, having fled to Mexico on a "writing assignment" before Court after hearing reports papers had been delivered to the Director of Public Prosecutions about the review.

I expect a libel action would be equally successful today for Temple but not necessarily Twentieth Century Fox.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Concerns with I Am Pilgrim

Terry Hayes
As set out in my last post I consider I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes an excellent thriller that is going to be a best seller. While a powerful book I did have some issues with the book. While I do not consider the following discussion to contain spoilers it does provide more information about aspects of the book that readers may prefer not to know before reading the book. Thus, be warned not to keep reading this post, if you do not want some detail about the book.

My first issue is Hayes not giving Pilgrim a real name. With multiple changes of name in the book reflecting his life as a secret agent I could only think of him as Pilgrim. I thought Robert Ludlum was brilliant with creating Jason Bourne and then having him learn it was not his real name. I would have preferred Pilgrim having an actual name by which he was known through the book.

My second concern with I Am Pilgrim is likely only going to be an issue for a lawyer but it grates upon me. A motive for a murder in the book is that the wife of a young billionaire will be limited under a pre-nuptial agreement to very modest cash payments if she divorces from her husband but if he dies she will inherit his estate.

What aggravates me about the scenario is that, in real life, any wealthy man or woman who is requiring a pre-nuptial agreement from their fiancé to protect assets in a divorce is going to prepare a will that echoes the pre-nuptial agreement for his or her lawyer will advise the client must deal with the end of the marriage by death as well as by divorce.

It is completely implausible that the wealthy client would either forgot about doing a new will or did not get around to a new will. Their lawyer, most likely team of lawyers for a billionaire, will make sure a new will is not overlooked and will equally ensure they get it done at the same time as the pre-nup.

The whole story line could have been rendered far more realistic had the billionaire husband taken out substantial life insurance, possibly even double benefits in the case of accidental death, to protect the fiancé if he should die unexpectedly.

My third concern is the ending. For those readers who love Hollywood endings it will be a satisfying conclusion. To me it was the weakest part of the book.

After writing a sophisticated thriller with a wickedly clever threat to America, Hayes chose an ending that is a clone of most Hollywood thrillers.

The actions and answers of the bad guy terrorist, when confronted by Pilgrim, are not credible. The Saracen, a terrorist who is a hardened holy Islamic warrior, would not have retreated from sacrifice.

Hayes had a chance to write an ending that could either have confounded the expectations of readers by not being the traditional Hollywood conclusion or an ending that was more realistic Hollywood. While Jeffery Deaver sometimes puts too many twists at the end of his books they are real.

My fourth issue is length. I understood the British edition weighed in at almost 700 pages. The American edition is 607 pages. While I thoroughly enjoyed Pilgrim’s pursuit of Saracen I believe it would have been a better book with 150 less pages. A significant amount of information could have gone into another book with Pilgrim as the hero without weakening this book.

While I do have the concerns outlined above I have no hesitation in recommending the book.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes – It is not often I believe I have read a new writer about to become famous in North America. Last year I thought Jason Matthews with Red Sparrow and Barry Lancet with Japantown had written best sellers. I am even more convinced that come May 27 when I Am Pilgrim is released in the United States Hayes will receive recognition on this side of the Atlantic as a great writer of thrillers. I am reminded of the impact on me of The Da Vinci Code and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Pilgrim is a man of many names. Born in Detroit but orphaned as a child, he was adopted and known as Scott Murdoch. Since graduating from university and joining the American Intelligence Agency known as The Division his identity has shifted constantly. Pilgrim is whoever he needs to be at any time.

Early in his career he determines a senior American intelligence agent, actually the head of European operations for The Division, is a traitor and about to provide information on Russian informers to Russia’s secret service. Pilgrim does not hesitate and executes the Rider of the Blue.

At 29 he becomes the Rider of the Blue and sets out to find how the Russians were paying American agents. Through dogged examination of records, skilful deduction and ruthless tactics he determines the answer and America exacts vengeance.

In a startling decision he resigns from The Division after 9/11 and moves to Paris where he writes a definitive textbook on investigation that is published under yet another false identity.

How he is found in Paris involves yet another clever investigation.

Returning to New York he is drawn into a murder investigation where the killer has used the information in his book to destroy the identity of the victim and erase any sign of the killer including dousing the murder scene with an antiseptic spray that destroys DNA. He is intrigued by the murderer.

The plot turns to years earlier in Saudi Arabia where a zoologist was publicly executed for making unfavourable comments about the Saudi monarchy. His teenage son, a devout conservative Muslim, vows revenge.

Brilliant enough to realize Saudi residents who have challenged the establishment of Saudi Arabia, the near enemy, are crushed the young man, called the Saracen, decides to attack the United States, the far enemy. He hopes, by weakening Saudi Arabia’s ally, to leave the Saudi Arabian monarchy vulnerable.

Not for him to embark on some quixotic jihad against America. How the Saracen finds and develops a credible means for one man to threaten America is terrifying.

Pilgrim is drawn back into the intelligence world when America needs an agent to pursue Saracen. Hayes does equally well in putting together a plausible scenario for a solo agent.

Pilgrim is not surprised when he learns of the threat is from a Middle Eastern Muslim fundamentalist. He has been paying attention to the language of the extremists. He draws an analogy from a conversation with a German Jew who, having survived the Holocaust Nazi Germany, said that when millions, even a whole political system, say they are going to kill you then you should listen. 

The book becomes a great chase. I was reminded of The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. The book builds momentum and tension through the pursuit.

I think of Robert Ludlum as one of the great thriller writers for managing to create believable roles for individuals in great quests. Hayes has achieved that rare accomplishment with the Pilgrim and the Saracen.

The characters of the Pilgrim and the Saracen are more complex than many thrillers. They are thinking men, not just action figures.

It is not a perfect thriller. In my next post I will discuss some issues I have with the book. While I do not specifically consider them spoilers I would rather keep them separate from the review.

I was not surprised when I learned after reading the book that Hayes has written movie screenplays and been a producer. He has a fine sense of creating compelling visual messages.

I thank Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy in an unusual format with the book in its own slip cover.

Lovers of grand thrillers will enjoy I Am Pilgrim. (Feb. 9/14)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Are Fictional Female Lawyers Men in Skirts?

A few years ago I attended a supper for Saskatchewan lawyers with over 25 years in the profession. Speaking after the meal was a woman lawyer about recruitment and retention of young lawyers. She said younger lawyers are seeking a better balance in life between work and the rest of life than lawyers of our generation.

My generation of lawyers saw a major influx of women. My graduating class in 1975 was 1/3 women and the proportion has steadily grown in Canadian law schools to just over half of current law students.

The speaker said that the women lawyers, such as herself, who graduated in the 1970’s and 1980’s and stayed in the practice of law did not find a way to be lawyers different from men. She summed up her generation of women lawyers as “men in skirts”.

Do women lawyers practise law, especially in private practice, differently from male lawyers? At least in the structure of real life Canadian law firms I have not observed significant differences.

I am not going to venture further into the treacherous waters of real life gender issues. Her comments did inspire me to take a look at whether the fictional female lawyers I have read practise law as “men in skirts”.

Victoria Lord of the Solomon and Lord mysteries of Paul Levine is definitely a “man in a skirt”. She dresses like men in conservative suits of grey, blue and black. She is, as noted in my review of The Deep Blue Alibi, a “solid, diligent litigator”. She follows the rules and works hard. She is indistinguishable from male lawyers.

Fellow Floridian, Lily Belle Cleary, in the mysteries of Claire Matturro is just as clearly not a “man in a skirt”. She is flamboyant in personality, dress and language. She does not try to look like a male lawyer so she can be considered professional. She is not solemn in an effort to appear dignified.

I think the cover of Matturro’s book, Skinny Dipping which accompanies this post, is wonderfully stylish and perfectly reflects Lily Belle.

Maggie “McFierce” McPherson, former spouse of Mickey Haller, in the legal mysteries of Michael Connelly is a hard driving prosecutor. From the books I think of her as a “man in a skirt” as she sought out and earned a reputation of being as tough as any male assistant district attorney.

Barclay Reid, in Murder One by Robert Dugoni, is the managing partner of a large Seattle law firm. She is a classic male executive partner with her smooth in charge approach to running the firm.

Moving to Canada, in the books of Robert Rotenberg set in Toronto there have been a pair of prominent female lawyers.

Nancy Parrish is a single woman who is a defence counsel. I see her tending toward a “man in a skirt”. She is so hard working that she spends most evenings alone lacking the time to establish dating relationships.

Crown Prosecutor, Jennifer Raglan, was not a “man in a skirt”. She prosecuted well but is not trying to show she worked like the men. She had a spouse and children. She fully participated in family activities. (My comments are in the past tense as she is murdered in a suburban Toronto motel in the latest book, Stranglehold, waiting for her detective lover.)

Female readers will have to tell me if some of the character traits I associate with traditional male lawyers are actually female characteristics.

I will be watching in real life and fiction to see if the women lawyers of my sons generation can find a different approach to law so that they do not describe themselves as “men in skirts” a generation into the future.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wildcat Wine by Claire Matturro

40. - 450.) Wildcat Wine by Claire Matturro – Sarasota medical insurance defence litigator, Lily Belle Cleary, is defending a pet psychic/alien-abductee counselor.They are healing specialities unknown in Canada. As she plots a legal defence her wild Georgia friend (and first lover), Dave Baggwell, arrives with a semi load of organic Florida wine. (I had no knowledge Florida produced wine.) Complications come swiftly and abundantly. She finds out the wine is stolen. Dave and Benny, the teenage son of her trusted secretary Bonits, find a body in nearby swamp. Farmer Earl Stallings, the owner of the stolen wine, is killed by the most unusal murder weapon, a grape picker. It reminded me how a 3 ton farm truck was an attempted murder weapon in Flight of Aquavit by Anthony Bidulka. Lily Belle would be a great partner for Anthony’s character, Russell Quant, if Russell were not gay. Further bodies continue the complications. Criminal defence lawyer, Philip Cohen, has the potential of a continuing love interest. Where Lily Belle was a touch eccentric in her first mystery her obsessive compulsive nature, especially with regard to washing food, is striking in this novel. I enjoyed the plot but found myself wishing she spent more time in the office and courtroom upon her cases. She is at her fictional best as a lawyer. I wonder if Lily Belle will become a senior partner in her next mystery as misfortunes continue striking down the existing senior partners. (Sept. 24/08)
It has been a few years since I read one of Matturro's books. Lily Belle is a memorable character.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Shaking Hands with the Devil

Roméo Dallaire
Authors work hard to create different characters, people with backgrounds and talents that are not stereotypes. At the same time they cannot be so odd as to be incredible. I need to be able to identify in some way with most characters to be interested in them.

Characters are bound to be alike between books, especially by authors from the same country, as the shared experiences of a nation provide inspiration. Still I found it striking to have read a pair of books in the past couple of months just published by British Columbia authors and set in the same area of B.C. that have so many similarities between a couple of characters.

In Cold White Sun by Vicki Delany math teacher, Mark Hamilton, is a former Canadian army soldier who served in Afghanistan. His war service has left him haunted and struggling with life. He contemplates suicide to escape the pain. Obsessively working out and teaching gets him through the day.

In Open Secret by Deryn Collier, which I reviewed in my last post, the sleuth is Bern Fortier, a retired Lieutenant-Colonel from the Canadian army. His military career took him into three major conflicts – the genocidal massacres of Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and the war in Afghanistan. His psyche has also been damaged by his participation in these conflicts. While not suicidal his mental burdens are heavy because of a secret he has carried with him for 20 years since Rwanda. Bern spends a lot of time out of doors working in his garden and walking to occupy his mind and body.

It is almost inevitable that two characters who were in the Canadian army over the past two decades would be much alike. The Canadian armed forces are much smaller, even in proportion to population, than the American military. Rwanda, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia / Croatia and Afghanistan are essentially the wars in which Canadian troops have taken part since the Korean War.

Of those conflicts Rwanda is most deeply painful in Canadian memories principally because of Canadian General Roméo Dallaire.

When Saskatchewan author Gregory Miller in his book, Silence Invites the Dead, wanted his protagonists to have war experiences he takes journalist, Myles Stirling, Colonel John McTaggart and Captain Ed Braun to the killing fields and streets of Rwanda. In my review I said they “struggle to hold their sanity in the carnage of Rwanda”.

I felt McTaggert was inspired by Dallaire who was commander of UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide. Prevented by UN headquarters from intercepting weapons and possessing but few forces he helped saved thousands of Tutsis but could not stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands. While he had done all he could he has been truly haunted and attempted suicide. He continues to serve Canada as a member of our Senate.
Dallaire in his book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda said:
     “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with
     the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have
     touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there
     is a God.”  

Too many of our heroes have been mentally damaged while in the service of our country.